A PolisPlan Initiative

design principles


The design principles below are for the design of the Circular Economy Village settlements. These should not be regarded as isolated entities but rather as hubs or nodes within a broader network. Each village would focus on the local production of the basic needs of its residents and guests but would still rely on the broader network for the satisfaction of more complex needs or to share rarer skills. Connectivity is therefore an over-arching principle for the network and this should be designed in to each settlement. This implies that each settlement should, in addition to providing for basic needs, provide some other goods or services to the broader network. This would reflect the particular focus or interest of the residents of each village. The complementarity of settlements, firstly within a bioregion and then more broadly, would guarantee a very wide range of goods and services for all. Each village should also incorporate good internet connectivity as well as shared electric vehicles and electric vehicle charging stations.


Match the population of each place to the capacity of the land and its infrastructure

Many regard the ‘Population Problem’ or ‘Human Overpopulation’ as the key issue to be resolved to achieve environmental sustainability. Our aim is to address this at a local scale, ensuring that the population of each settlement does not exceed the capacity of its environment. If this approach is replicated by all communities we might then globally begin to approach One Planet Living.

From an economic perspective this implies that where possible—and particularly in relation to food, water, energy, shelter and transport—we aim to match the local demand with local supply.


Maximise the resilience of the system

Natural systems are both more productive and more resilient as biodiversity increases. Our aim is to mimic this in all the infrastructure systems. Food systems for example, will include a wide range of fungi, plants and animals, not just to feed the humans but complement and support the ecosystem as a whole.

From an energy perspective, a diverse range of energy generation and storage options increases resilience and energy security.

With respect to the built environment, the diverse range of spaces should be flexible, multipurpose and integrated to maximise usability. Diversity should be expressed in terms of multiple users and multiple purposes for any space. The character of spaces should also be diverse in the sense of moving beyond the simple duality of inside and outside. Spaces can have a roof but no walls, or two walls or three walls, hedges can create an unroofed outdoor room, vines can create a ‘roof’ in summer and not in winter and so on.


The longer things last, the less work is needed to fix or replace them

Our current economic paradigm encourages us to think of produced goods as consumables—to be used and then discarded. A durable good might last for a longer period before parts need to be replaced. We could define the most durable goods as sustainable—they can be sustained in a functioning form for a very long time or even indefinitely. 

An important application of this idea is in the construction of buildings. The current lifespan of a home is in the order of 40 or 50 years. Many buildings in traditional villages are as old as 1000 years and are still as solid as when they were first constructed. Building design and construction should consider each design element in terms of maximising durability.


Share ownership and utilise spare capacity

The online sharing economy encourages a shift from ownership to access. Ownership—which in legal terms is the right to exclude—results in a significant amount of unused spare capacity. Online sharing economy platforms allow us to extract value from this unused capacity, for example in our home, car, tools, office or land.

Applying this idea to the design of a settlement, we reduce the size of houses and maximise assets and spaces that can be shared, such as pools, tool sheds, entertainment and work spaces and the like.  Also, enable multiple users to utilise each space and design spaces to be used for multiple purposes. Designs should create ‘degrees of privacy’ without resorting to exclusive ownership. Residents will have use of, access to, and be responsible for, various parts of the settlement. Rather than owners of land, residents will be stewards of an ecosystem of infrastructure and natural assets.


Let technology do the work

The purpose of technology is to make life easier. Our technologies were once thought of as labour-saving devices. Our aim is to minimise the work need to be done by people, rather than the current narrative that seeks to create jobs and more work.

Generally, anything measurable can be automated, allowing humans to undertake creative activities that require the consideration of options, the exploration or expression of ideas or opinions or the making of value judgements. Empathy, caring and other actions that require time, connection and humanity will always require human interaction. 

Current debates about the future of work, especially as they relate to the loss of jobs due to improvements in technology—will robots take our jobs?—could be better framed in terms of minimising laborious, repetitive and routine work to maximise the time available for creative pursuits. 

To maximise time for creativity it is necessary to maximise the efficiency with which basic needs are produced and distributed.


Local production for local consumption

Our current economic system seeks to maximise trade. The energy (or work) needed to transport goods increases as the mass of the item increases and also as the transport distance increases.

As our aim is to minimise work, the transport distance should be minimised, which implies that we should strive to maximise local production for local consumption. For goods not able to be produced within the village, we should look to neighbouring villages, then to others within the bioregion before looking beyond.

For fabricated goods, the aim is to minimise the mass of the object being transported. This can be done by transporting the ‘blueprints’ and have the item produced locally, say with a 3D printer.

Finally, the concept of print on demand, minimises waste in the production process and the need for marketing to sell unnecessary goods.


Support nature to do the work

Natural systems are designed to convert waste into a resource, to constantly regenerate. Our aim is to enhance the capacity of the environment to provide these ‘ecosystem services’.

By creating a closed water cycle, we are mimicking the natural water cycle, thus providing an endless supply of water. By assisting the conversion of organic waste into soil we not only improve our ability to produce food but by increasing soil depth we also aid in the management of water quality and quantity. 

Integration is also important so that plant systems can clean water, water can generate and store energy. Buildings can also harness natural energies through passive architectural design principles such as solar orientation, use of thermal mass and natural convection.


Minimise Energy losses

The first law of thermodynamics is that in an isolated system, the amount of energy remains constant, while the second law states that the available energy continuously and irrevocably degrades into unavailable states.

The planet at a global scale and each settlement at a local scale can be thought of as thermodynamic systems but they are not closed in that they have a continuous input of energy from the Sun. Our aim is to maximise the amount of input energy that is harnessed, whether with solar panels, other technology or by plants and to minimise the energy that is lost, whether embodied in exported goods or in unnecessary commuting or as waste.

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